Of course he could fly, he knew it.
In pain, though, in waiting silence, he was not so sure. His arms, once strong, could now barely lift themselves from the covers.
They were holding him down. They waited till the pain was worst and pinned his arms to the covers and whispered at him: “it’s impossible… impossible to fly. You can’t….you can’t.” Then They went; abrupt and silent save for the whisper in his head: “you cannot stop us coming back”. They became more real than daylight or love or hunger or the desire for flight.
In the daytime, his mother put him to sit on the balcony and look out. That was where Theresa had first noticed him. She had seen him staring up into the freedom of the sky and then onto the shackles of the ground. When he looked down, she did not flinch, she waved. Two days later, she blagged her way in to the flat, talking and moving too fast for his mother to have time to stop her.
Now she came round every day.
“Why don’t she ever take you out?” she said, when his mother was out of earshot.
“She says she can’t.”
“Can’t be bothered more like. What a lousy view. It’s better from mine.”
“It’s not so bad.”
Truth to tell, he could remember no other view. He knew it was better than his own face, also forgotten. His mother had removed every mirror. Now his world was what he could see of the flats opposite. He knew three whole floors – every window, every balcony, the setting of every aerial on the roof, the scrap of scraggy curtain flapping, the feeble plants and saggy washing. It was hard to see much sky.
He asked, forgetting, “how many floors is there?”
Theresa considered and plumped vaguely for fifty. It conveyed, at least, the wearying height of the place. “There’s nothing but rats on the ground floor,” she added, “scares me silly.”
Even his mother agreed with that. It was a disgrace, she said.
He sat and looked at his view every day and thought about other people. There was a woman who used to come out onto the balcony and cry and her husband used to drag her back in. Once, when he was watching, the woman tried to jump. She was trying to fly. She shouted it, stretching out her free strong arms, yet looking more pinioned than her invisible, immobile observer. She could not fly. She could only fall. Someone dragged her back, kicking and shrieking. He hadn’t seen her for a long time.
He sat so still. Some days he imagined miracles about himself. Other days he couldn’t stand the dreary greyness anymore. That was when he leant back in his chair and stared into his personal scrap of sky.
The sky could swallow you up. As clean as a jewel, it curved and circled, drawing him towards itself. The very first time he felt it, his arms lifted, achingly, and for a few moments he could almost feel himself soaring and rising up over the aerials and the dirt into the heart of sapphire freedom.
All he had to do was learn the secret and he would be free. His mother said it was nonsense. But then, she was free but had forgotten the secret. He was no longer free and had to remember it.
Once his mother wouldn’t let Theresa see him.
“It’s a disgrace, you two wittering on,” she grumbled, shoving him early to bed, “talking nonsense the whole time, as if someone could fall in love with you, the way you are. You might as well face it, you won’t escape and sure as anything not by wishful thinking.”
She left him and went to bed. He could hear her snoring as he lay with nothing but covers to embrace him. Then They came for him. All around the bed together, They held him down. He couldn’t hear Them but he knew They were laughing and waiting. Closer They came. Closer than ever. He cried out but his mother, talking in her sleep, called “stop your whimpering… shut up… shut up!”
When morning came, he was soaked. His mother was silent with thin lips. It was the worst thing.
But she let Theresa in and she let Theresa wheel him out and take him up to her flat two floors above. It was the first time he had gone out since…. was it really two years? The bannisters above the sucking blackness of the stairwell were sticky and the lift was dank and malodorous but he touched them in an ecstasy of novelty.
Theresa’s flat was different. Flowers rejected by florists filled jars and bottles. Clashing throws and rugs and charity shop finds made the room buzz with colour. There was a picture on the wall. It was of a death but seemed to be filled with vigour and defiance. A man had his arms outstretched to fly but someone had pinned him down. His arms were nailed down, his legs were twisted and nailed down, his head had fallen forward, nailed with thorns. He was nailed down but an energy came from him.
“He understands,” said Theresa, “he understands being trapped and stuck. Right in the middle of everything though, he was free, he never stopped being himself.” She paused, “I think he knew that it is not about flying away but about flying anyway.”
They went out onto Theresa’s balcony. The evening was noisy. Around and below was music, argument, distant games, the blaring of sirens, the constant heavy flood of traffic. Was he drab, in his dull dressing gown, quiet and broken? Theresa’s hand crept into his and her head lay on his shoulder, as if he was her rescuer. Night became lovely. It was dark, but the sounds had dimmed and above the dull orange, he knew the sky was the black of translucent coal and hot with diamonds. Peace called him silently to fly.
Something was different now. He had been wrong all along. His mother did not know about flying because she was free but didn’t realise she was free. He knew about flying because he was tied down. He could not escape, but even if the sucking darknesses took his useless body to their claws and teeth and laughter, if they did, he could still go into the soaring singing freedom of his mind.
Theresa arms came round him and she looked into his eyes. He wondered what she saw, remembering only vaguely his perfect face from before and knowing it ruined. Theresa seeing him as he truly was, kissed his lips, wiped his hair from his eyes and settled his tired arms around herself. Flying tandem.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission